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Weber State denounces racism, seeks suspect behind clandestine signage

By Tim Vandenack - | Nov 9, 2021
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Images released by Weber State University showing the suspect who allegedly placed signs on the campus on Nov. 1, 2021, linked to the white supremacist movement.
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Weber State President Brad Mortensen speaks to a gathering in the Shepherd Union on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, to address some students' concerns about white supremacist signage found on the campus.
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A whiteboard in Shepherd Union on the Weber State campus, photographed Nov. 6, 2021.
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An image released by Weber State University showing the suspect who allegedly placed signs on the campus on Nov. 1, 2021, linked to the white supremacist movement.
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An image released by Weber State University showing the suspect who allegedly placed signs on the campus on Nov. 1, 2021, linked to the white supremacist movement.

OGDEN — Weber State University officials have released a pair of photos of the suspect they think posted signs on the campus linked to the white supremacist movement.

They’re also sharply denouncing the incident, which prompted protesting by students of color and others.

“Any form of racism is unacceptable at Weber State University. We condemn the actions of those responsible for these (fliers),” Weber State President Brad Mortensen said in a message emailed to the university community. He also said in the email, supplied to the Standard-Examiner, that a special advisory council would be formed at the university on issues related to diversity.

The individual is masked and wearing a hoodie and the photos the university released, from security camera footage, are grainy, making identification difficult. But officials ask anyone with information on the matter to contact the university.

“Inappropriately posting fliers or other materials in this way amounts to criminal mischief, and WSU Campus Police investigate each incident fully,” said Allison Hess, the university spokesperson. Those with information may call 801-626-6460 or send an email to wsupd@weber.edu.

Terri Hughes, head of the Weber State chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she doesn’t know who exactly might behind the signs.

“I just know it keeps happening,” she said. That whoever posted the signs did so clandestinely, she added, is “a coward move.”

Clandestinely placed signage linked to white supremacists has periodically appeared on the campus at least since 2017. The most recent instance was on Nov. 1, when the person in the photos released by the university allegedly placed a pair of signs on doors leading into the Shepherd Union reading, “It’s okay to be white.” The letters “IOTBW,” the acronym for the statement, were spelled out in duct tape on the outside of the building.

The “ostensibly innocuous” phrase has been adopted by white supremacist groups, in part to provoke backlash from critics, who can then themselves be cast as intolerant, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The turn of events prompted protesting by students at the university and an informal talk on Nov. 4 inside Shepherd Union between Weber State President Brad Mortensen, other university officials and students and staff. The protesting students, beyond denouncing the message in the signs, criticized the failure of the university administration to quickly convey word that they had been posted at the university.

The anonymously placed verbiage is a form of threatening students of color, protestors said, and they should have been told of the situation. As is, they learned of the signage — quickly removed by university officials after it was discovered before 8 a.m. on Nov. 1 — from a tipster.

In releasing the photos, Hess criticized whoever was behind the signs.

“We condemn the actions of those responsible for these flyers. At Weber State, we value every individual. We strive to create an environment where everyone is welcome and has a safe space to pursue their goals academically and in life,” she said. There’s no link to prior clandestine messaging on the campus tied to the white supremacist movement, she said, except that those behind it “apparently did not want to be identified with their message.”

The protesting students staged a sit-in at Shepherd Union, occupying part of the floor in the main atrium of the building. Hughes said the efforts yielded results, including the campuswide message from Mortensen last Friday condemning racism and whoever placed the fliers.

In his email, Mortensen also said the university will spread word on the campus “when actions or activities occur that cause people to fear for their personal safety.” Furthermore, he went on, a new body will be created, the President’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, “to evaluate existing university efforts, identify gaps and suggest improvements.”

Hughes said the university response represents a “big win” for protesting students. She and many other Black students at Weber State have been involved in a series of efforts dating at least to last year to raise awareness about the injustices they say they face on campus.

Still, their efforts will continue, Hughes said. The students also seek creation of a Black Cultural Center on campus.

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